Manila, Feb. 15, 2003 -- The University Belt area is a major component in Manila's development plan and the urban renewal program must be carried out in all sectors as this would perk up the economy.

This was the assessment of Mayor Lito Atienza, saying "a city that is clean will definitely have a robust economy. This is a time-tested formula."

At the roundtable discussion on University Belt area concerns, Atienza assured school officials led by UE president Josefina R. Cortes that the city government would implement several features of the urban renewal program for the Manila Central U-Belt.

"Soon, the road from Espana to C.M. Recto will be lighted which should make the area safer from muggers and thieves," Atienza told discussion participants, held at the seminar room of the UE Foundation for Research and Advanced Studies, Inc. (UE-FRASI).

A draft on the urban renewal plan for the U-Belt area has been prepared by the University of the East, Far Eastern University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of Manila and the Philippine School of Business Administration for the implementation of programs, projects and activities that will enhance the immediate environment of each institution and the whole Manila Central U-Belt area. Atienza revealed that physical improvements around the U-Belt area could have been introduced had not work on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 2 started two years ago.

"Basically, we can't do anything as the whole place was under severe construction conditions," he said. The Manila mayor said he hopes the stations or terminals of LRT 2 would be accessible to existing pedestrian overpass and underpass so the students would have an easier and safer access to the commuter trains.

He said there is no sense educating the youth "if there is nothing to look forward to in the future." Decay and deterioration, Atienza noted, would transform Manila into an inner city and allow other cities and municipalities in Metro Manila to seek the distinction as the Philippines' capital city.

But the local chief executive played down this possibility, stressing that Manila is rich in history, culture and the country's education center.

"Quezon City can never be the capital city, same with Makati. They can have all the mall, but they don't have Manila Bay," Atienza pointed out.

He said the city's development plan called "Buhayin ang Maynila" program also focuses on upgrading the urban center's role as "the molder of young people's future."

Atienza said his administration's ongoing projects to rehabilitate plazas and create more playgrounds have not been spared from criticisms, especially from owners of business establishments.

"It's so easy to ride on issues," he said. "Like a typical mayor, you just go through with your term, before you know it it's election time. But I am not like that. I want things done for Manila," he added. From the time of Mayor Arsenio Lacson to Mayor Antonio Villegas, he recalled, Manila did not seem to have any development plan resulting in the deterioration of the 432-year historic city.

"I look forward to studying the proposals (of the urban renewal project) and possibly implementing its features as we see it fitting to our overall program," Atienza told the roundtable discussion.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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